Movie Review: The Lincoln Lawyer delivers

April 20, 2011


The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey as  the slick Mick Haller, is a legal thriller centered around a trial lawyer who faces off with a client that challenges his balance of legal obligation, moral composition, and basic instinctual intelligence.

The client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), is desperate to prove his innocence in the beginning, swearing he never brutalized the prostitute with whom he visited. His very wealthy family holds the position that the lady of the evening targeted Mr. Roulet due to his apparent wealth and arranged a faux-physical altercation and injuries after Roulet’s visit in order to entrap him. Haller feels confident that he can represent this man in court successfully, and should the story have ended there, this would have been 2011 shortest feature-length film. Luckily, Louis Roulet is far from innocent. Millions of miles from innocent.

Thus the premise for The Lincoln Lawyer is laid.

The title of the film, which is an adaptation of a popular Michael Connelly novel of the same name, draws from the fact that the smooth looking, fast-witted Haller does business from the back of a very shiny black Lincoln town car. Earl, his driver, adds to the charm of the traveling office.

The film is not the best of the year, nor is it loaded with Oscar-worthy performances, but it is surprisingly better than expected. McConaughey’s acting skills are a highlight, taking the movie as a whole above the initial feeling of, “This reminds of a CSI Miami I saw once…” and moving it to a more intense place, one where the drama and suspense are such that you get nervous every time he unlocks the door of his home.

Haller’s ability to keep his cool even when someone is waiting for him in the shadows is striking, reminiscent of the unflappable characters of film noir past and present. Phillippe’s portrayal of Roulet is not terribly strong, but pushed just enough to be tolerable. After all, he is supposed to be less than likable. Marissa Tomei and William H. Macy’s characters provide support effectively by showing the human side of the rogue lawyer Haller as his former wife and friend/personal investigator, respectively.

The stories within The Lincoln Lawyer are interesting if not incredibly original; equipped with a lying witness or two. Characters with copious amounts of money are most likely the ones to fear. Not locking up your weapons is a guaranteed bad idea. Having an alibi is always a good one. Entwined in this narrative are Haller’s waning self-assurance, the wealthy Roulet’s sleazy past and deadly potential, the utter failings of the justice system, and the value of knowing more than your opponent.

Stylistically, The Lincoln Lawyer is interesting to watch. The film has a visually catchy credit intro, names flashing against mod black and white squares cut with Haller’s black Lincoln and Los Angeles streets. The music is very urban and soulful, something perhaps Los Angeles can be for some people. Dramatic and harrowing scenes come with their own artistic camera angles and imaginative editing. And Marisa Tomei’s wardrobe is impeccable.

On the whole, there are only a few tiny gaps in the plot, nothing big enough to warrant not catching this movie in theaters. The performance by Matthew McConaughey alone is worth admission. The Lincoln Lawyer delivers as a tough legal thriller.